Fast, cheap and out of control

Part Two: Every broken bone begins with a stupid idea

There are less than two months before the flag drops on the first race at the Portland Adult Soapbox Derby and team Zyabiis has been successful in deconstructing a riding lawn mower to a bare chassis. This is the presumptive base from which a gravity-driven rocket will be built. The problem we are now confronted with is how to build said gravity-driven rocket.

It is not uncommon for entire cars to be built in the three days prior to the derby. Generally the teams that do so have at least some modicum of technical skills and a high tolerance for alcohol and pain. I will throw aside political correctness for one second and say that the teams that build in this manner are fucking crazy. These are not people you want to race a heat with. Not only do they have that faraway look common to maniacs, but it’s a fifty-fifty chance that their vehicles will even make it down the hill. Your only hope is that they are nowhere near you when their tires come off.

To be fair, had we the technical skill, we would probably be one of those three-day car teams. As it turns out team Zyabiis has had a habit of building sketchy cars despite the fact that construction has taken place over a period of three months. Our first car, Z-1, was an inline vehicle that commonly fell over just five feet from the starting line. Attempts to fix the problem with retractable stabilizers, dubbed HTOL’s (Horizontal Take Off and Landing), failed.

Our second car, Z-2, was able to complete every race, though the outboard shocks we had designed from pogo-sticks served mainly to create a wicked fishtail in the 180 degree learning curve. Z-2 was essentially a four-wheeled vehicle but had only three wheels in contact with the ground at all times. Our horrifying skids were pleasing to the crowd, sure, but at the same time it is difficult to steer a vehicle at 30 miles per hour when your life is flashing before your eyes.

It is with this shaky history in mind that our first research and development meeting was called. Team members Matt and Joel arrived with a 12-pack of Rolling Rock and the self-assured looks that accompany the knowledge that one’s fate may be disastrous.

We opened the garage and rolled out the chassis. Each with a beer and folded arms, we circled the thing in silence and absently kicked at the wheels. Several moments passed in silence before Matt uttered the words upon which rest every soapbox victory or defeat: “I have an idea…”

At this point we engaged in the research and development tango, a dance of visions, ideas, fears and possibilities – many of which were beyond our technical ability. Thanks to the beer, however, we banished our limitations and before long were discussing the shape of Z-3 while attacking the chassis with tools, stripping it down even further.

At the end of the evening we were left with a hunk of green metal with a steering system, two flat tires, and a primitive drawing on a white board of an audacious idea for a car which has a rear wheel that banks independently in response to the leaning mass of the second rider. The next two months will be spent trying to achieve this vision while making it look cool.

I fear for us all.